Prisoner’s suit after Chanukah observation denial may proceed

May 15, 2017

A pro se Indiana inmate may proceed with his federal lawsuit claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when prison staff denied his requests to observe Chanukah with a menorah and use of the chapel at Westville Correctional Facility.

Judge Robert Miller last week denied summary judgment sought by the state in Shavon Tyvell Boyd v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, 3:15-cv-082. “Chaplain (Richard) Ungrodt isn’t entitled to summary judgment on either of Mr. Boyd’s First Amendment claims,” Miller wrote.

Miller wrote that prison officials’ primary justifications for denying Boyd’s requests were lack of advanced notice and supplies necessary to accommodate the request. But Boyd contends he informed prison officials in letters weeks in advance of his desire to mark the Jewish holiday in December 2014.

“If Mr. Boyd’s version of events is true, Chaplain Ungrodt’s actions violated the clearly established law,” Miller wrote. “(I)n 2014, no reasonable prison official could have believed that it was legal to arbitrarily deny a prisoner access to religious observance, or to intentionally discriminate against a prisoner based on the prisoner’s religious beliefs.”

However, Boyd’s claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act do not survive summary judgment. Miller also denied his motions for oral argument and defense motions to strike parts of Boyd’s affidavit.


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